Viking and Medieval Settlement in the Faroes: People, Place and Environment

Viking and Medieval Settlement in the Faroes: People, Place and Environment

By Símun V. Arge , Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir , Kevin J. Edwards and Paul C. Buckland

Human Ecology, Vol. 33, No. 5 (2005)

Abstract: Apart from the possible, but unproven presence of some Irish hermits, the Norse colonizers of the Faroe Islands arrived in an unsettled landscape around A.D. 800. The archipelago was essentially unwooded and rich in bird and marine life. The area of land suitable for settlement and farming was relatively meagre and concentrated in coastal areas; inland areas were suitable for shielings (summer pasture) and subsequently more extensive grazing (outfield) activities. Reconstruction of the settlement distribution has not been a well-developed aspect of Faroese historical study. Using archaeological and documentary evidence, we are able to present the first comprehensive distribution map of Norse settlement, which emphasizes an overwhelmingly coastal focus of considerable density. Using historical (including place-names), archaeological, and environmental evidence, we examine the nature and organization of the Viking (early Norse) and medieval (later Norse) settlement. Colonization and economic activity in the islands were strongly influenced by topographic and ecological factors. This, along with social organization, was subject to influences which may have derived, at least in part, from experiences in a Norwegian homeland.

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